Laying Out a Roadmap for Change

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Laying Out a Roadmap for Change:
Singer-Songwriter David Rovics Talks
About Music, Activism, and the Future (Interview)
by Mickey Z.
Musician and writer David Rovics may live in Portland, Oregon but he is a true citizen of the world. From his roots in Wilton, Connecticut to his regular tours across four continents to his TV, radio, and Web appearances on Democracy Now, Counterpunch, and other venues, Rovics has become a "professional flat-picking rabble-rouser." He is the creator of over 200 songs—which he makes available for free on the Web and have been downloaded more than a million times.
Rovics: A peace poet who "makes revolution irresistible"

Rovics took time out from his full and exciting schedule to talk with me about his music, his activism, and his links to the past and future.

Planet Green: You’ve written: "As I travel around the country doing concerts people earnestly, often a bit desperately, wonder aloud to me, what's it going to take to get people really riled up and ready to do something about this situation?" I’m curious to hear how you usually reply to this question.
[For complete article reference links, please see source at Planet Green here.]


David Rovics: I increasingly have come to the conclusion that it's not so much about people being sufficiently riled up, but about people having a sense that success is possible, that there is a goal to be accomplished and that it can be accomplished, and here's how.

PG: It’s almost as if we need a roadmap for change. Do you feel you can and do play a role in such a roadmap via your music and writing?

DR: Road maps are useful, and yes, people need a sense of a way forward. I hope I help provide that in my own small way, mostly by telling stories from the past that I think are instructive in terms of where to go from here, and also by playing the role of "cheerleader" for the Left.

PG: For you, what came first: your interest in music or your agitating for change?

DR: My parents are both professional musicians, so I suppose the interest in music came a bit earlier, at least depending on how one defines "interest."  I was playing music before I became particularly political, in any case. I was introduced to the concept that there's something very wrong here and the concept that we can do something about it at the age of 12 while attending Rowe Camp in Rowe, Massachusetts. There was an old leaky nuclear reactor in town and the anti-nuke movement in the US was at its peak, back in 1979.

PG: Do you feel a political/social message becomes more accessible when delivered via music?

DR: There are a lot of factors that can make a message more or less palatable—journalism, like music, can be palatable or unpalatable depending. Good music, though, has the capacity to be not only palatable but to have a deep visceral, emotional impact. It's not unique in its ability to have a direct line to the hearts of the listeners, but it's a particularly powerful vehicle, or it can be.

PG: Why do you make your music available for free?

DR: It's a bit complicated. There are a few angles here. First of all, I believe musicians should have some kind of chance to make a living from their music, and there are many ways this can be done. Many songwriters and other musicians are convinced that free downloads are bad for them and them making a living, and if they have reason to believe that or not, I respect their opinions and I think they need to have some way of making a living. I have found, though, that putting up all your music for free is a great way to have it heard. That means more fans, and more fans means more gigs and bigger audiences, and that means making a living. So for me, it's entirely a good thing. I'm pretty sure that the musicians it's not good for are the ones who already get loads of conventional publicity, and I'm not worried about them. The other answer is not the practical one but the ethical one. Ethically, whose world is this? Whose land? Whose water? Whose culture? Whose language? Whose chord progressions? Whose lyrics? Is there a line to be drawn in there somewhere. I'd say not, aside from whatever artificial lines need to be drawn in order to allow people to benefit from their labor, including intellectual labor.  My songs, like anyone's, are in some sense unique. But mostly, they're just lyrical and melodic variations on millions of songs that have come before, using a language I didn't invent, using a musical language I also didn't invent, both of which I have added my little bit  to.

PG: What's next for you and how can Planet Green readers connect with you?

DR: Next for me? Writing more songs, playing more gigs, raising my child. In particular, after playing at a Peace Action conference in New Hampshire, then the US Social Forum in Detroit, and the G20 protests in Toronto, I'll be touring Australia and New Zealand in late July and August. In the fall, I'll be doing a big tour all over the continental US. In terms of getting in touch, the best way is to go to my website and sign onto my email list, send me an email, download mp3's, etc.   

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